The city of Orlando is full of fantasy and make believe, but for golfers, the best magic is at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge. It’s really not magic at all. Guests stay in terrific accommodations, they get to play the best course in Orlando and perhaps even meet the King himself. Palmer remains golf’s most approachable legend. It’s always a treat when he’s at Bay Hill (www.BayHill.com).
“We really try to emulate him in everything we do,’’ said Ray Easler, vice president of hospitality and operations for the Club and Lodge. “He’s a friendly, engaging person and we try to take that persona and inject it into our employees and into the feel of the place.’’
The “feel’’ of Bay Hill goes much deeper than most people, particularly first-time guests, realize, probably because of the low-key neighborhood setting in which Bay Hill is located. While the golf course – home to the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard – is the centerpiece, Bay Hill also features a junior Olympic-sized swimming pool, fitness center, six tennis courts, spa and salon, 9,000 square feet of meeting space, Arnold Palmer Golf Academy and the 70-room lodge.
The Bay Window – one of four restaurants - is a great place to watch the activities on the putting green as well as eat a brick oven pizza or a steak with all the fixings.
“We have all the amenities of a major resort, just in compact form,’’ Easler said. “The Lodge allows people to feel and touch it Bay Hill and ultimately come back and join the Club. It allows people access to something they normally wouldn’t have access to and to experience what the PGA Tour pros experience.’’
The golf course, originally designed by Dick Wilson in 1961, is hands-down the best in Orlando and one of the best in Florida. It’s been my favorite layout in Orlando for nearly 25 years. I never tire of playing it, although admittedly I’ve never broken 80. And that includes the time I birdied the par-t3, 17th and par-4, 18th holes back to back.
They’re two of the more famous holes on what is justifiably one of the most famous courses on the PGA Tour. There are other great holes, too, on the course that plays more than 7,200 yards from the tips and has five sets of tees on each hole.
The first hole – a dogleg left, 461-yard, par 4, is an outstanding opening hole; and the sixth hole, a 555-yard, par 5 that sweeps left around the water. The sixth dares you to cut off as much water as you can handle from any of the five tees. In 1998, John Daly carded an 18 after drowning five balls.
My friend JD aside, the sixth might be favorite hole at Bay Hill as it requires accuracy, a bit of courage and some local knowledge.
Understandably, Bay Hill is a bit of a museum to the Palmer legacy. The pictures that line the walls of the Lodge tell the story of Bay Hill, which was founded in 1960, and help capture the Palmer mystique. Part of that mystique is approachability and class without arrogance or pretense.
Some first-time visitors can be a bit intimidated by the surroundings, which include a dress code, but most of the time that quickly wears off.
Bay Hill is one of those places that grows on you over time, whether or not you’re a golfer or golf historian.
“We don’t want it to be stuffy,’’ Easler said. “We want you to come and relax and enjoy yourself. We want people come and feel like they’re home at home.’’
A home fit for the King.